When being continually challenged I have a tendency to over-focus on things, big or small, worming themselves into every waking thought. I regularly try to draw comparison to others, set myself unrealistic standards & goals, and apply unreasonable self-pressure. A lot of this has to do with a constant feeling that I need to prove myself. That pesky imposter syndrome never quite seems to stop. But it’s not just to others, it’s also to me feeling that I need to challenge myself, succeed, stretch and keep progressing. There’s that word again, need, defined as ‘Require because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable’. That’s a strong thing to be saying to myself. ‘Would like to’ is much more apt, it’s also less committal and less catastrophic if it doesn’t happen. Lately the feeling that things have been a ‘need’ has been challenging, depressing, and ultimately exhausting. Snapping at friends and family, being irritable and unfair.
At times it feels that the reason for this mindset is ambition. But I question how that can be the reason when I’m not sure what I’m striving for. After attending talks given by other professionals I feel I’ve been more able to put my finger on what drives this, and that’s Fear. Fear of feeling ashamed, fear of failure, fear of other people’s perception of myself.
In a society that focuses so much on work and performance it’s easy to be swept along and lose ourselves. Is who I am today who I want to be, or who society wants me to be? Only by reflecting on this can we see whether we’re losing who we are; our own authenticity.
“Authenticity is the sharing of self by relating in a natural, sincere, spontaneous, open and genuine manner.” — Dean H. Hepworth, Ronald H. Rooney and Jane Lawson
Making a list starting with ‘I want to be perceived as…’ and ‘I don’t want to be perceived as…’ may help to find things that shape how we act, what we do, and who influence us. These are also likely to be hand in hand with shame triggers. When I do something that goes against the list it’s natural to feel some shame, like I failed myself.
We find ourselves surrounded by people on a daily basis. These people all differ in experience; both level and nature. If there’s one thing for sure it’s that they’re better than you at something. It might be one thing, or a lot of things but there’s always something. Drawing a comparison here is setting oneself up for failure every time. But it’s possible to filter these comparisons. It’s easy to focus on what make you come up short of your competition is exactly that, competition. But if it’s admiration healthy pathways may present themselves. “I like the way they handled that meeting” can lead to some thinking as to why. How they came to handle it in the way they did, why was it the right thing to say? These thoughts are easier when they originate from someone we respect our admire.
It’s these people that our inner critic can listen to. These people have the qualities to earn your respect, which is a self-admission that we value their feedback above others. Despite knowing this the mind works in ways to prove to others, whom we do not respect, that we can do better. But then it’s a fight to fit in, rather than to belong.
Being social creatures, and given the tendency to be overly self-critical we rely a lot on others to gain another perspective on situations and life. It’s nice to know you’re not alone. Even if it feels like it a lot of the time. It’s the people that we turn to in times of suffering and pain they can make a difference. A good friend can try to comfort and listen to troubles. A bad one wouldn’t listen, or answer.
Being true to yourself is a tough thing to come to terms with. When we concern ourselves with how other people see us it’s difficult for us to see how we’re actually seen by others. There’s no need to put your effort in improving your appearance for an asshole. You won’t impress them, and even if you do the benefits will be short-lived. Before your efforts are discarded once again.
Taking to others, and most importantly, listening, lead us to develop what, personally, is the most valuable asset to have. Empathy. Once we’re able to feel empathy towards another person we have a shot at feeling it for ourselves.
Theresa Wiseman described Empathy as having multiple components:
- See the world how others see it
- Be non-judgemental
- Understand the other person’s feelings (listening, without interrupting)
- communicate understanding
These are all things that we can find value in on our quest to self-improvement. Striving to fit in, striving for perfection, and judging our self-worth on our output at work are unhealthy obsessions to develop. Taking a step outside of this vicious cycle and seeing it for what it truly is we allow ourselves a kindness. A respite from the continual beat-down of emotion.
Authenticity: Natural, Sincere, Spontaneous, Open, Genuine
When we allow ourselves to be us the weight on our shoulders can start to evaporate. There’s a beautiful word in Japanese, which fits extremely well to the human condition.
Wabi-sabi (侘寂) — in Japanese aesthetics meaning imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete
Once we accept that we are who we are, and that we’ve got where we’ve got by being ourselves we can work on actually instigating positive change based on the people around use whom we respect. Practicing self-compassion allows us to be kind to ourselves, we reach kindness through practicing empathy and understanding of ourselves. Our circumstances drive us, and shape us, but do not control us, we control ourselves. (Arguably) In the words of Edmund Burke — “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. Remaining in control of ourselves and taking action must trigger change. Not all change is good, but if we were to set ourselves reasonable and reachable goals we can help ourselves change in the way we wish. It could be as simple as making yourself toast in the morning.
With self compassion we are able to have a greater understanding for personal failings. With understanding comes peace. Once we are at peace with ourselves it’s safer to look out for others we know and love.